The Cheetah Family

I have been extremely remiss.

The year’s big fundraiser for Jack’s hockey team, the 2015 Cheetah-thon is coming up in two weeks and I haven’t written anything about it. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve written anything about the Cheetahs all year.

That, however, doesn’t mean we don’t still love our Cheetah Nation. ‘Cause we do.

Photo of Jack wearing a black jacket with the Montgomery Cheetahs logo on the back.

Unrelated: Look at his hair. I wish he hadn’t wanted to cut it. Oh, I miss it sooo much.

I’ve been a little checked out from the team this year. It used to always be me who took Jack to practice on Saturdays, but Alex has taken him at least half the time this season. We also didn’t go on the tournament trip for the first time since Jack joined the team. There’s been a lot of Cheetahs hockey without my participation over the past few months.

Jack has had a few really rough practices this year, mostly because he doesn’t always want to do the drills or stay on the ice for the whole practice. (And once because he just flat-out got pissed at another kid and wanted to brawl, hockey-style—that was a hard week.) He gets tired, he says, and it’s cold.

Even so, when I ask Jack if he still wants to be a Cheetah, he always says yes. We’ve talked about some of the things that are hard for him when he’s skating and we’ve been flexible in letting him take a week off here or there when he’s needed it.

Because the thing is, when he’s into it, when he’s happy to be with his team, the magic of special hockey appears.

Photo of Jack and another player in red jerseys skating across the ice.

I stole this photo from the Montgomery Cheetahs Facebook page. I love it.

Photo of Jack sliding to the ice during practice. He's smiling.

Jack often enjoys the drills where the entire point is to fall spectacularly. I love that grin.

Profile of Jack in his hockey helmet.

Taking a break during practice.

Photo of Jack from the back, skating away from the camera.

One thing Jack almost always enjoys is simply skating. It’s second nature to him now.

Jack in full gear on the opposite side of the plexiglass from me. His hands and helmet are pressed up against the glass.

Jack has also been known to ham it up a little during practice.

Jack in a red jersey and his buddy in a blue jersey. They are on the opposite side of the rink, leaning against the side of the rink and looking totally relaxed.

Jack hanging with one of his two best friends, who is also on the team. (Obviously, I suppose.) They’re working hard. Can’t you tell?

Jack is resourceful. He’s always finding things to keep him entertained. There was one practice where I saw him skate over to the rink door and I thought he wanted to get off the ice. By the time I made my way over to see what was up, he was busy entertaining a group of parents by finding ways to ask for their drinks through the plexiglass.

Photo of Jack on the other side of the plexiglass. He's breathed on the glass to make a fog and has written the word "coffee" in it.

I was all, “If you caffeinate that kid, so help me God…”

This is one of the things I really enjoy about Jack. He looooves entertaining people. He is such a goofball.

And every once in a while, he grabs the camera and I get to see parts of the hockey experience from his point of view.

Photo of me sitting on the ground in a locker room. I'm untying his skate.

One day he will be able to tie his own skates and life will be sooooo good.

The Montgomery Cheetahs have given Jack so much.

He’s learned to do something that’s pretty hard and that a lot of kids his age can’t do. He has access to a large disability community. He gets good exercise and learns about teamwork.

More than that though, he is unconditionally accepted. Yes, he is asked to do things and demands are put on him, but if he can’t do it, if the drills or following directions or doing anything other than lying the ice is just not in the cards that day, it’s okay. He isn’t forced to perform. The coaches and I encourage him and try to get him excited, but if the answer is no, the answer is no. And even better, he’s not made to feel bad about it.

For kids like Jack who are pushed so hard so often to do things that are extremely difficult for them, it is nice when they have a place they can chill out and just belong.

This is never more evident than when the Cheetah Nation gets together off of the ice. The team held its yearly party last weekend and, as always, it was a joy to behold. There was food and booze and a DJ. Players of all ages and their parents danced or jumped or ran in circles or shared video games or did whatever made them happy.

Photo of chairs stacked against a wall. Jack is laying across a bunch of them.

Like hanging out on piles of chairs.

That’s what I love about the Cheetahs. No one is pressured to be anyone or anything other than who they are.

With the Cheetahs, Jack is accepted for being exactly who he is.

Photo of Jack in a large room, with tables and people behind him. He has a huge grin on his face.

Anything that makes Jack this happy makes me that happy.

If you are able, please consider donating to the Montgomery Cheetahs on their Cheetah-thon fundraiser page. It takes a lot of money to keep a team like this going. They work really hard to keep player costs to a minimum, so the team depends heavily on funds raised at the Cheetah-thon. If you donate in Jack’s honor, make a note of it during the donation process so I can be sure to thank you.

Whether you can donate or not, thanks for always being so supportive when I talk about Jack and the Cheetahs. It really is a fantastic community. In fact, it is far less of a Cheetah Nation and far more of a Cheetah Family.

 

Me Too, Jack

It’s April, which means it’s Autism Acceptance Month.

If you want to know why I celebrate Autism Acceptance Month instead of Autism Awareness Month, check out the spring issue of Zoom Autism. I have an essay in there on this very topic. (There is also a lot of other great stuff in it.)

A lot of places, especially schools, tend to celebrate Autism Awareness Day on April 2. A few days ago Jack told me that his school would be celebrating Autism Appreciation Day instead.

First: Awesome.

Second: Yep, still awesome.

Photo of Jack. He's working on a magnetic puzzle ball.

My Jacksy. Also awesome.

I tell you this to preface a story that one of Jack’s teachers emailed to me on the first day of April. She explained that they are celebrating diversity of learning and other abilities in addition to autism.

There is an “I am” wall in the cafeteria to involve students in “the differences and similarities that contribute to each of our unique personalities.”

Sounds pretty cool, right?

Wait until you hear the next part of the teacher’s email:

“Yesterday, we kicked off the activity by introducing it in 6th grade lunch,” she wrote. “I walked through the cafeteria and had kids give some examples into the microphone. Some were ‘I am creative,’ ‘I am kind,’ ‘I am funny.’

“I felt a little tug on my sleeve, and it was Jack. He gently pulled the microphone to himself and spoke into it. ‘I am Jack, I am autistic and I am proud.’ There was applause from the entire 6th grade.”

You guys. This is what it’s about. This is everything.

Jack’s teacher told me that students approached Jack after he said that to tell him they were proud of him too and they shared their own experiences with autistic friends and family.

Jack has known about his autism since pretty close to the time he was diagnosed. He has been leading me in understanding autistic pride for years. I am grateful to be able to follow his example. You’re proud of you, Jack? Me too.

This is why autism acceptance matters so much to me. I need my kid to hear this message. I want to protect him from people who say something is wrong with him and needs to be fixed.

Lest anyone worry that he might be getting that message at his school, let me put your mind at ease. The teacher who sent me this email is Jack’s case manager and teaches him multiple times a day and took home a sweatshirt that had ripped to try to fix it and is generally The Right Person For Jack At The Right Time. This is how she ended her email about this lunchtime experience:

“So you can tell Jack that I think he is courageous and different and wonderful.”

Me too, Jack. Me too.

The Rat Stands for Obviousness

On days that I work, I take the Metro train into DC and then walk about 15 minutes or so to my office. My route from the Metro to work is entirely dependent on the timing of the walk signals. If the walk sign is green, I go one direction. If it is red, I take a turn. This means I get to walk a different route almost every day.

That first walk signal though. I don’t know why, but it is almost always red, leaving me to make a right turn. Very rarely it is green, sending me on a route that, if the other signals cooperate, leads right past Alex’s office.

Today all the signals were in line and as I neared the corner by Alex’s office, I texted him to demand that he wave to me.

Closeup photo of the outside of a building. You can see three windows. Alex is visible in one of them, giving a thumbs up to the camera.

This photo wasn’t taken this morning, but you get the point.

I rounded the corner, focused on his building windows across the street and expecting only to see Alex. Instead, I saw this:

Photo of giant, really creepy inflatable rat on a sidewalk.

I know. I fucking know.

Alex, looking out of his window, must have seen my head explode right there.

I waved to Alex, I took a flier from the guy standing next to the rat, and I continued walking. And then I stopped because, dude. I’ve seen Scabby the Rat before, but never close up like this. I knew I couldn’t just walk away without, well, without doing this:

Selfie of me. There is a giant inflatable rat in the background.

My best celebrity sighting yet.

As a former union member myself, I felt a little bit bad being a big dork around this Very Serious Protest, so I made sure to read the ENTIRE flier that the guy gave me as penance.

There was an actual picture of a fat cat on the flier.

Photo of a corner of the flier. There are words and also a cartoon of a cat in a suit and top hat, smoking a cigar and holding a bucket of coins.

It’s like my morning was full of small presents, wrapped in awesomeness.

It turns out that Occidental Petroleum is using a contractor who uses a subcontractor who does not pay area-standard wages and benefits. The Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters has a labor dispute with this subcontractor and wants you to call Occidental Petroleum to tell them that they should hire different contractors. *fist raised, solemn nod of solidarity*

Anywho, while this whole thing was going on, Alex was watching with his own special kind of joy. Evidently my backtracking for a photo and to get a better look did not go unnoticed by the guy handing out fliers. It turns out that I am neither subtle nor smooth.

But I was delighted. As you know, I’m a big fan of rodents, especially weird ones. Add in a good cause and a rare DC-sighting of Alex? Well, that was the best block in DC this morning.

******

* “The rat stands for obviousness” should actually be “the rat symbolizes obviousness,” but Alex and I always use it the first way, so that’s how it stands here. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, look up Ralph Wiggum and The Debarted/Departed.

A Taste of Spring

The great thing about running a race in Florida in March is that you get to go to Florida in March and it will be warm and happy and also the only time ever that you will be grateful that it is humid.

Seriously, it was awesome.

I was with my friend Heather (of Disney fame) and my friend Lyda (of my trip to run a race in Florida fame) and we stayed at Lyda’s family’s house on the beach.

Photo of me with a big smile on my face. I am standing in front of the ocean.

It was TERRIBLE.

I kid. It was wonderful. And there were many exciting things about this particular beach.

Like this jellyfish… (and all the other dead jellyfish strewn all over the beach)

Photo of a jelly fish on the sand.

I touched it. Then I felt sad that it was dead.

And these shells…

Photo of a big pile of shells on the beach.

I didn’t collect any because I didn’t think my kids would want any and when I got home, Quinn was all, “Where are my shells?”

And this crab guy…

Closeup of the beach with some shells and a small brown crab.

He was an anomaly though. I only saw the one.

These adorable birds…

Some birds on the beach. There are sandpipers in there and maybe some other birds.

I think some of them are sandpipers, but I don’t remember if the sandpipers are the big ones or the little ones.

And pelicans!

A pelican flying through the sky.

I know this is a terrible photo and this pelican isn’t actually ON the beach, but IT IS A PELICAN AND PELICANS ARE COOL.

This stick family…

Picture of sand with five stick figures (my family) drawn in it.

It took me WAY longer than it probably should have to draw these stick figures.

Sand…

Selfie of me on the beach with a very grumpy look on my face.

I find sand to be very upsetting.

These goofballs…

Photo of my friends Heather and Lyda.

Hi friends!

All of that great beach stuff happened on Friday. Then on Saturday we had to run nine miles, like saps.

Photo of four women runners.

This is before the race. Please to notice our friend Holly who didn’t stay with us, but did run with us.

After the race, we ate everything that we could find in Jacksonville. And I made my friends pose with every weird animal sculpture we encountered.

Two photos. One of Heather posing with a brightly painted jaguar sculpture; the other of Lyda sitting on a brightly painted sea turtle.

My friends are good sports.

Sunday was Sightseeing Day, also known as Lyda Faces Her Fears Day. Seriously. We did everything that Lyda found frightening on Sunday.

We started by doing an elevated obstacle/zip line course over an alligator park. Also, it turns out that elevated obstacle courses are vaguely terrifying.

Photo of Lyda and Heather standing on a platform in a tree. I am walking up a series of "stairs" leading to the platform. The stairs are dangling from cables.

Can you see the terror in my posture? I can. Can you see how relaxed my asshole friends are on their stable platform? I can.

That said, courage is not about not being afraid, but keeping on even when you’re scared. ‘Round about halfway through the course I got my shit together and transitioned from terror to fun.

You know what is NOT terrifying though? Ziplines.

Photo of me mid-air on a zipline. I am making a happy face at a camera.

Holy hell that was fun.

After we finished the “45 minutes to an hour long” obstacle course that took us a good hour and a half to get through, we headed off to tour the alligator farm.

Photo of Heather and Lyda watching alligators in water from a wooden boardwalk.

For the record, Lyda isn’t afraid of alligators.

Photo of Heather crouched down with her head inside the open mouth of a fake alligator.

Neither is Heather.

No, the alligator is not real.

The alligators were cool, but I really enjoyed the hayseed tortoise they had there.

Photo of a giant tortoise with a piece of hay sticking out of his mouth.

It is *great* to be inside my head. I find myself to be extremely amusing.

There is a lighthouse near the alligator park and on our way out, Lyda was all, “Ha, ha, I assume you don’t want to climb the lighthouse,” and Heather and I immediately replied, “Yes. Yes, we do,” which was unfortunate, because Lyda doesn’t care for stairs you can see through.

Photo of me making a face as I lean out over a spiral 15-story staircase made of black metal stairs, each step of which is made of metal with round holes cut in them so you can see through them.

Fifteen floors, friends.

The lighthouse was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I like lighthouses. I think they’re neat.

Photo of a convex mirror. In it you can see a lighthouse reflected with me, Lyda, and Heather standing in front of it.

I bought a little wind chime model of this lighthouse. It makes me happy. I also bought some fudge in the gift shop. I don’t know why they had fudge, but who am I to question their logic?

Selfie from the top of the lighthouse.

This is me at the top of the lighthouse.

When I got to the top of the lighthouse, I found some tourists talking to a staff member about the efficacy of said lighthouse as a safe place during the zombie apocalypse. I’d found my people. Even if they thought zombies couldn’t climb stairs. (They obviously can. They’re just not very good at it.)

We left for the airport on Monday at the crack of damn dawn, but it was even kind of worth it because we walked out of the beach house to this amazing scene:

Photo of a hammock suspended between palm trees in a pool of light. The photo is otherwise dark except for a crescent moon in the sky and reflected on the ocean.

Note: the reality of this photo was about 800 times prettier than this picture.

Photo of an airplane wing in front of a sunrise.

Then on the plane, I annoyed the hell out of my window seatmate (Heather) by elbowing in front of her to take 17 photos of the sunrise.

That is our trip to Florida. We arrived back in Maryland to what suddenly felt like extremely cold and grim weather. I gotta say, I see the appeal of living in a tropical place. Spring is a-coming to Maryland finally, but it was really nice to get a little preview.

Thanks for putting us up, Lyda, and for suggesting the race. Thanks for putting up with me, Heather. You guys rock. I had a blast.

Victory. Is Mine.

There is something to be said for walking into a race with extremely low expectations.

Usually when I go to a race I am hoping to meet or beat a time goal. For the 15K I ran last weekend, my out-loud goal was to somehow ambulate through the entire course. My in-my-head goal was to actually run it—at whatever speed I could.

Per usual, I walked through water stops. Because of this:

Panel from The Oatmeal web comic showing a runner choking on water at a race aid station. The text reads "Do not stop running when getting a drink at an aid station. By enduring the "sprint-choke," you could shave three, possibly four seconds off your 5+ hour finish time! Remember: marathon success does not come from training or perseverance, it comes from waterboarding yourself at aid stations."

Please go buy the book this comes from immediately. You won’t be sorry.

But other than that, I ran the whole damn thing. All 9.3 miles of it. I really wasn’t sure I could do it based on my total lack of training—or any running at all—over the past month and a half. I was hopeful, but skeptical, especially considering the sharp incline that I knew I was going to have to run up roundabout mile eight.

My strategy? Run super ass slow. I averaged 13ish minute miles. I actively worked to not run fast for the first couple miles when I was still fresh. I was the tortoise letting all the hares pass me.

But the tortoise finishes.

Photo of me post-race with my Finisher medal around my neck. I am also holding a popsicle stick.

Related: The strawberry ice pop that used to be on that stick I’m holding was the best thing I’ve ever eaten.

I’m proud of me. Plus, since it is the first 15K I have ever run, my, like, two-hour time is totally a PR.

What’s more, I feel reinvigorated. I am ready to start hitting the (snow-free) sidewalks. My new treadmill was delivered to my house so I am prepared in case of rain. I have a full and fun race calendar ahead of me this year and I am ready to go. This race was hard, but I am so glad I did it. Bring on the next one.

Remind Me Never to Sign Up For a Spring Marathon

I’m in a bit of a pickle.

I’m running a 15K race on March 14th and I am seriously undertrained. I was doing really well on my training and then I got sick and then it started snowing all the time and then I lost motivation and then I got really busy and then it snowed some more and then I lost even more motivation and then I realized how totally screwed I am.

I keep trying to run, but all of my good running paths are either covered in snowy ice or feature invisible spots of the even better kind of ice that makes you fall down. Usually that’s not a big problem because I have a treadmill and can just run on it. But my treadmill is broken so I can’t run on that either.

I feel trapped.

Part of me is all, “Fuck it, I’m running through the ice.” I tried to do that yesterday. I got two houses down my block before I slipped on some of that invisible sidewalk ice and clonked my knee. I stood up, dusted myself off, turned around, and walked home.

Do you see how it is?

I did manage to go on an 8ish-mile run last weekend, which at least makes me believe that I can ambulate through 9.3 miles, but that doesn’t make me any less undertrained. I say 8″ish” because I had to walk sections of the route due to deep, crunchy, uneven snow.

Photo of my foot in a running shoe in ankle deep icy snow with frozen footprints that I am stepping in.

It was extremely frustrating.

Needless to say, I am devastated about my treadmill.

I believe it to be irreparable. It’s been weirdly bouncy for months. Then it got kinda bumpy. Then it felt as if a hole was forming in the deck. I checked under the belt and it is all kinds of cracked all over.

At first I was all, oh the shame of being a chubby runner who smashed through her treadmill deck, and then it occurred to me that the deck might have gotten cracked during our move last year and gotten worse over the months since due to, well, due to me being a chubby runner. But once I started thinking about when the weird bounciness started and flashed back to the shoving and pushing and pivoting the movers did to smash the treadmill around our basement corners and into position, it occurs to me that I may not be entirely at fault.

While it is too late to file a claim with the movers, all is not lost because yesterday I did run at least a tenth of a mile while doing reconnaissance at the treadmill store. If you add in the six laps I took around the running shoe store earlier in the day, it’s almost like I ran an ultramarathon.

I mean, I feel proud of myself that I can just go out and (mostly) run almost 8 miles after not doing any significant exercise for a while. I think that says good things about me. Crawling the last mile of my upcoming race will say fewer good things about me.

Even better? I’m flying to another state for this race, so I get to embarrass myself in front of a whole new crop of people. Wish me luck. Or at least wish me funny stories.

Winter is an Asshole.

I’ve been trying really hard to not complain about the weather this winter because (1) who wants to hear someone complain about the weather, and (2) I don’t live in Boston so I really have no place complaining about the weather.

That said, FUCK THE WEATHER.

Last Thursday’s snow day was the final straw for me. I’m done. Do you hear that, winter? I. Am. Done.

The other day I asked Sam how he felt about winter because it seemed like he would of course say that it was the worst and I would feel comforted by our agreement on the issue. But he was all, “I love winter. School is canceled all the time and I get to go sledding and I don’t care if it’s cold.”

Now I don’t much care for Sam either.

My kids wake up on every school day and, as a matter of course, ask if there is a delay or snow day. At least they tend to sleep in on snow days because they are trying to avoid getting up for what they think is a school day.

Photo taken out my office window of my kids playing in the snow in the front driveway.

Ironically, the only time my kids spent NOT squabbling during Thursday’s snow day was the time they spent hurling chunks of ice at each other.

But for reals. I’m done with the cold. And don’t get me started on the thick coating of salt all over the roads and the cars. Putting aside the obvious sensory nightmare, the other day Quinn slipped on the, like, inch-deep layer of salt on a sidewalk and almost cracked his knees. Enough. Also, ironic.

Last Saturday I was at Sam’s school for an event and it snowed while I was there and the drive home, which normally takes 20 minutes, took me TWO AND A HALF HOURS. It was brutal.

After two hours I finally made it to my neighborhood, but if you remember, I live at the top of a hill. Pro tip: Don’t buy a house at the top of a hill. It took me half an hour to battle my way to the top of said hill. To be fair, that half hour did include the five minutes I spent parked by the side of the road debating whether I should just abandon my car and hoof it home.

I did not. I was not going to let winter beat me. I defeated that hill.

I may have won the Hill Scrimmage in the Last Saturday Snowstorm Battle, but I’m worried that I am going to lost the Winter War.

Tomorrow is the first day of March. It’s supposed to sleet or do something equally horrible, right when I’m going to be standing around at an outdoor event.

Please let spring come soon. I’m so done.